Thursday, 31 October 2013

La Boheme

WAOpera’s self-proclaimed Year of the Divo is coming to an end. The year started with baritone hunk Teddy Tahu-Rhodes as the Alpha-male Don Giovanni, followed by Rosario La Spina’s resplendent Alfredo in La Traviata. But the best 'male moment' was provided by not one but four ‘divo’s’ in the current production of La Boheme.

The four 'divo's'

Puccini’s famous operatic depiction of 1830’s bohemian Paris is constructed around the love between Rodolfo and Mimi but much of the energy comes from the youthful antics of Rodolfo’s artisan friends. The easy-flowing banter between Rodolfo and Marcello (a painter), Colline (philosopher) and Schaunard (musician) feels even more natural in this highly entertaining production thanks to director Simon Phillips’ 1990’s updated setting.

Stephen Curtis’ set design celebrates the recontextualisation without sacrificing the intent of the original opera. Rodolfo’s grotty bachelor pad is scattered with dirty dishes and milk crate furniture; a rap dancer and ghetto blaster replace the traditional fife and drum band in a riotous market scene (with the WA Opera Chorus bustling with activity) and the toll gate from Act Three is a warehouse alley.

The Opera Conference production was last in Perth in 2007 and has plenty of depth to warrant this revival (smoothly orchestrated by rehearsal director Cath Dadd). For example the recurring rose motif, first seen painted on the flat window. In Act Three as Mimi and Rodolfo’s relationship is threatened decaying roses spill from a rubbish bin and in Act Four the louvre windows are open and the rose image is fragmented as Mimi dies.

 The thought-provoking directorial concept was matched by an outstanding cast. American tenor Garrett Sorenson’s emotion-laden, untamed voice gave a boy-next-door appeal to Rodolfo.  Australian-Armenian Natalie Aroyan brought a fragile naivety to Mimi, with moments of voluminous soprano splendour. Her conversational ‘Mi chiamano Mimi' was full of shy smiles and expressively stretched phrases. As the lovers sang their duet ‘O soave fancuilla’ the apartment floor lifted and the entire set was winched above the stage; their youthful infatuation lifts them momentarily from the squalor of poverty.


Jose Carbo’s brooding Marcello was the perfect match for Rachelle Durkin’s charismatic Musetta and their squalling relationship – including a fistfight resolved by love-making – was highly entertaining. Adrian Tamburini was a noble Colline and Andrew Foote was in top form as the Benoit the tipsy landlord. James Clayton was loveable as the loutish Schaunard, dancing erotically with a bean bag, peeing into the grimy toilet and procuring a surprise feast for his mates on Christmas Eve.

The robust playing from the WA SymphonyOrchestra under Joseph Colaneri overwhelmed the lovers during key moments in Act One but the orchestral colours were vibrant, with sassy winds and velvety strings lending moodiness to this engaging production.

La Boheme continues Nov 2, 5, 7, 9. Tickets here

This review copyright The West Australian 2013

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Marina Prior

Marina Prior is one of the most elegant divas in the music theatre industry with her luxurious brown hair and a voice rivalling Julie Andrews for sweetness. Yet rumour has it she started her career as a busker.

“Yes it’s true,” Prior confesses over the phone from her home in Melbourne. “Busking was my part-time job while I was studying music at Melbourne Uni. I would sing everything from Elizabethan love songs to Joni Mitchell and Puccini. It was very eclectic, a bit like this concert tour.”

Prior’s first national solo tour showcases the soprano up close and personal. She will be singing hits from her three decades in music theatre including her career-making role as Christine in the first Australian production of Phantom of the Opera. The 24-venue tour includes performances in Perth, Bunbury and Albany this weekend. 

Prior snared her first lead role when she was just 18 as Mabel in the Victorian State Opera’s The Pirates of Penzance. The dream run continued with roles in productions like Cats, Les Miserables, West Side Story and Showboat. It was the eighties, the golden era of musicals in Australia.

“In the theatre I found my tribe, where I belong. I have a light coloratura soprano so it suits me more. And I love the depth of dramatic theatre; I can be a cat, a Bronx stripper (in Guys and Dolls), and a daffy English lady in Mary Poppins.”

Prior has recorded five albums and ventured into stage plays and operas including an Australasian tour with tenor Jose Carreras. She stars regularly in Melbourne’s Carols By Candlelight and worked as a judge on Channel Seven’s It Takes Two. Most of her career has been spent working under a director so Prior is relishing the creative freedom of a solo show. 

“I have the chops to do it now,” says the 49 year old. “I love being able to construct the evening, tell anecdotes and make people laugh. It is liberating.”

The intimacy of a solo show is also appealing. Prior will be accompanied by pianist David Cameron and will occasionally strum a guitar, the instrument she first began singing with as a nine year old.

“You have to expose the real you on stage, that vulnerability is crucial. If you are real then people warm to you.”

The program spans Prior’s creative life and there is no shortage of material to choose from.

“The program is made from the songs we couldn’t leave out! There are music theatre songs and some Celtic music, plus songs I grew up singing by people like Kate Bush and Joni Mitchell.”

Another bonus is the performing schedule which allows Prior to return home to her five children during the week.

“Being a mother is the defining factor of my life and I love being able to be home for canteen duty and making lunches. And then I run away to the circus on the weekends!”

Marina Prior ‘Encore’ tour Friday 18th Astor Theatre, Saturday 19th Bunbury Entertainment Centre, Sunday 20th Albany Entertainment Centre.


This article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013.



Crossing Roper Bar

Once upon a time someone tapped two sticks together and sang a story. The ancient tradition of music making is as old as humanity. The diversity of today’s music represents the complexity of the human community. Mixing the different groups doesn’t always result in a harmonious outcome.


Crossing Roper Bar is an ambitious project which blends some of the world’s most disparate musical genres in a musical collaboration which is touring WA this month. At its core is an ancient songline from the Ngukurr people from the Roper River in the Northern Territory, fused with the contemporary jazz sounds of the Australian Arts Orchestra. AAO director Paul Grabowsky initiated the project in 2004 with the late songstress Ruby Hunter and the project has since toured Australia and Europe where it played to standing ovations in Paris and at the London Jazz Festival.

The Ngukurr community is only accessible in the dry season by driving across a strip of land called Roper Bar. The Crossing Roper Bar tour takes its name from that natural bridge. And as the group of musicians sing their way from Darwin to Perth they are building a different kind of bridge.


For Broome-based singer and guitarist Stephen Pigram - a recent addition to the line-up - the connection is made through music.

“I’ve taken The Ngukurr people fishing and we have shared a few words from our different languages,” Pigram says. “But the music is what is bringing us together. The music will carry everything.”

“The Ngukurr are brilliant singers and performers.  It is about showcasing traditional musicians at the top of their form and providing an arena where people can sit and listen. Yothu Yindi has done it a bit and Gurrumul (Yunupingu) sings well in language but that is more disco and pop music. This is fused with a jazz slant.”

Pigram will be contributing some of his original songs to the mix. “It is like dressing your children up in different clothes and sending them out to the world,” he says.

The indigenous folk singer has collaborated in similar ways with Black Arm Band and the Australian Chamber Orchestra for their Reef tour.

“In this day and age you have to challenge musical boundaries, because everything is starting to sound the same. This takes it somewhere fresh for the musicians and translates it to something unique for the audience.”

Tour director Tos Mahoney says the project has evolved since the first west-coast tour in 2008.

“There is a sense of real joining now, of connecting between genres. It is musically more subtle and sophisticated and it has evolved into really quite an avant-garde work.”

Cross-cultural collaboration can be fraught, with lots to lose and little to gain from combining different musical languages. Mahoney says the success of this project lies in the artistic rigour and commitment to longevity.

“What is really amazing is how the project has kept going, and the personal connections the artists have made. It works because there is no intent to make a commercial success or to soften the art to make it more romantic or palatable. The result is a powerful joining that conveys profoundness and emotion.”

The tour will include workshops and collaborations in Djarindjini/Lomadina, One Arm Point, Beagle Bay and Roebourne as well as concerts in Kununurra, Karratha, Exmouth and finally the Perth’s State Theatre on October 29th.

This article copyright The West Australian newspaper 2013

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Haydn's The Seasons

Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons never quite lived up to the success of its predecessor The Creation. It suffers from a prosaic libretto (particularly the English translation) and moments of juvenile word-painting including a bagpipe ‘drone’ in the chorus and frog burps in the orchestra. But it has moments of sheer brilliance too: the breathless choral commentary on the hunt with glorious horn writing; the often quoted Spinning Chorus, and the peasant dance and storm which were predecessors to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. So it was well worth the efforts of the UWA Choral Society to mass the 100-strong choir, soloists and 30-piece orchestra required to present this large-scale piece.

UWA Choral Society, Winthrop Hall

Christopher van Tuinen conducted with assurance, leading from harpsichord for the recitatives. Concertmaster Shaun Lee-Chen led the freelance orchestra with emphatic style, highlighting the light and shade. There were plenty of rousing moments but the most gripping were the more intimate, like the sparse pizzicato raindrops and hushed timpani roll anticipating the summer storm.

Soprano soloist Jennifer Barrington sang with pearly tone and brought a sense of drama to her beautifully sustained lines. Tenor Andrew Sutherland delivered a gleaming “The traveller stands perplexed” but lacked projection at other times. Robert Hofmann’s baritone sounded forced at times but his crisp diction was appreciated in the reverberant Winthrop Hall (a printed libretto would also have been appreciated).

The choir gave a mixed performance. Outstanding moments included the warm, lush “Come, gentle Spring” and the clean, blended men’s chorus in “Now cease the conflicts”. But there was also droopy pitch in the sopranos and messy entries (particularly in the laboriously slow drinking song) which compromised an otherwise worthy performance.

This review copyright The West Australian 2013.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Do conductors matter?

The age-long debate on the importance of the conductor has been put to the test. A New York orchestra set up on a street corner with a sign saying "Conduct Us". The hilarious results were captured in this film:

Ensemble ACJW, a joint venture between New York's Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School of music, perform Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Isn't it fascinating to watch the changes in the sound as random conductors take to the podium.
Does it make you want to have a go? I think there is a closet conductor in all of us  :-)

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Sound Spectrum is back

For five nights next week Spectrum Project Space at Edith Cowan University will resound with brand new sounds. It is the bi-annual Sound Spectrum festival, featuring the composition staff and students at WAAPA.

Oct 7th-11th
Monday: Ephemeral (Contemporary Dance) & Spatial Music
Tuesday: Graduation Recital Previews
Wednesday: Mass Solar Installation/Performance, Ephemeral & Max/MSP
Thursday: Shock of the New
Friday: Ephemeral, Electro-acoustic Lab & Interactive Dubstep Environment

Spectrum Project Space, Edith Cowan University, 2 Bradford St, Mt Lawley, Building 3, Room 3.191